Preparing for and Recovering from Cosmetic Corrective Procedures

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With more and more people getting Botox, dermal fillers, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, and cosmetic surgery, it's no surprise that many wonder if there is anything they should do ahead of time to prepare for these procedures. They also wonder how to care for their skin after the procedure. These are valid concerns, and there definitely are things to consider doing days (and potentially weeks) before your appointment.

We've conducted research on, and personally have been through all types of, cosmetic procedures. As a result, we have a list of tips and other vital information to share with you! If any point we make below does not apply to your situation, please just skip it.

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General Tips Before the Procedure

The general pre-procedure advice you'll read about or hear from your physician usually includes the following:

  • Stop taking medications and supplements that increase bruising, swelling, or bleeding. (Talk with your doctor if it's absolutely necessary for you to continue to take such medications daily.)
  • Ask your doctor if any supplements or medications you currently are taking could increase the risk of the side effects post-procedure. Be 100% honest; tell the doctor about everything you use, prescription or not.
  • At least one to two weeks prior to your appointment, stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), Gingko biloba, St. John's Wort, vitamin E, fish oil (omega-3) pills, ginger, and garlic. All of these are known to increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
  • Do not drink alcohol for at least 24 hours prior to the procedure and, depending on what procedure you're having done, for up to several days (or weeks) afterward.
  • Consider taking arnica. Because arnica has anti-inflammatory properties when taken orally, it may help if you begin taking this supplement up to two weeks before your procedure(s). Check with your physician to get his or her approval and recommended dosage.

It goes without saying, but just in case: DON'T TAN and DON'T SMOKE! This precaution is warranted because many people still tan and smoke, yet both are lifestyle choices that mounds of research has shown have a negative impact on skin. Tanning and smoking contribute significantly to skin discolorations, increase scarring, and delay healing.

In regard to smoking, any reputable doctor will not perform an invasive procedure on a patient who continues to smoke—it really is that serious. Also, many laser- or light-based treatments cannot or should not be done on tanned skin. If you can't stop these ill-advised behaviors for good, then at least quit for several weeks before and after your appointment.

Skin Care Before and After a Cosmetic Procedure

Generally, when it comes to cosmetic corrective procedures, there are no absolutes or special skin-care steps or products you must add to or remove from your existing daily skin-care routine. This assumes you are following our product recommendations and advice for taking brilliant care of your skin. The mantra here: Continue to take great care of your skin! Doing so encourages faster healing and can also make recovery less daunting.

Despite the fact that there are no pre- or post-procedure musts for skin care, some physicians do have opinions about your skin-care routine and perhaps things you should change. You should follow your doctor's advice on what he or she thinks is best, but if in doubt, be sure to speak up and ask your physician why he or she is making the recommendation. Even if you don't agree, it is wise to follow your doctor's advice.

Carefully consider the topical medications you use. Topical cortisone creams (over-the-counter or prescription-strength) can impede healing, and retinoids such as Renova or Retin-A can exacerbate post-procedure inflammation. Given these risks, some doctors recommend not using such products 1–2 weeks before your procedure.

When it comes to retinoids, however, whether prescription strength or over-the-counter retinol products such as moisturizers or serums, many doctors feel as we do: Because retinoids strengthen the skin, it is best to continue using them before and, when appropriate, in the days following your procedure.

No matter what, be sure you're up front with your physician about any topical medications you use and share the details on any oral medications you take, including supplements bought over-the-counter from health food stores or drugstores. Many oral medications can interfere with recovery from a cosmetic procedure, so it's critical your physician knows exactly what you're taking.

Last, be sure to check our reviews of the products you're using so you're certain they don't contain problematic or irritating ingredients.

What About Exfoliants?

For laser resurfacing, Fraxel treatments, or chemical peels, you may want to stop or reduce the frequency of application of AHA or BHA exfoliants one week before your procedure. This isn't a must-do, but some doctors feel it's helpful. Again, you should follow the advice of your physician.

After the procedure, our general advice is to wait to use AHA or BHA exfoliants until your skin has returned to its normal texture and color. This may mean waiting a few days or a few weeks, depending on the depth of the peel or laser procedure. Both peels and laser procedures can leave the skin temporarily extra-sensitive, so if in doubt, it's best to wait rather than to rush things.

Once you begin using your AHA or BHA exfoliant again, pay attention to how your skin responds and adjust the frequency of use accordingly. Discontinue use if you notice signs of irritation. Many people find that these products enhance healing and lead to an even better outcome!

Post-Procedure Care

You've had a procedure (or multiple procedures) done. Now what? Here's what you need to do (or plan for) when you're recovering from minor or major procedures.

Apply cloth-wrapped ice packs. One of the most important things you can do is to apply ice packs just after Botox and dermal filler injections as well as other non-ablative laser- or light-based treatments such as Thermage, Fraxel, or intense pulsed light (IPL). Continue to ice on and off throughout the day that you had the procedure.

For other procedures, such as chemical peels, ablative laser resurfacing, or cosmetic surgery such as a face-lift, precisely follow your doctor's instructions. Generally speaking, the more involved or extensive the procedure, the more involved the post-care will be. There's a big difference between post-care following Botox treatment and post-care following a face-lift!

Avoid activities that raise body heat. Depending on what procedure you had, your doctor may advise you to avoid raising your body temperature for the next few days. This means no strenuous exercise, no hot yoga, no soaking in the hot tub or sitting in the sauna, and no extended cooking over a hot stove.

Sleep with your head elevated. After any cosmetic corrective procedure, it can be exceptionally helpful to sleep with your head in an elevated position as much as possible. This reduces swelling and can significantly speed the healing process. If this proves too uncomfortable for you, try propping pillows against your sides so your arms can rest more easily with your head elevated.

Post-laser or post-peel, add a rich, balm-like moisturizer. These procedures can leave skin scaly and dry for several days, so if your skin-care routine doesn't include a rich moisturizer, it should. The moisturizer doesn't have to be heavy and occlusive like Vaseline, but it does need to be emollient and loaded with skin-healing antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients.

Along with moisturizer, consider using a silicone-based serum. Silicone ingredients, such as cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone, have a proven ability to help protect and heal skin, and a silicone-based serum loaded with antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients can be a wonderful addition to your post-procedure skin care. You'll want to keep using it after your skin has healed, too!

Don't give up your AHA or BHA exfoliant, but stop using scrubs or the Clarisonic. Scrubbing your skin is a problem after most cosmetic corrective procedures because it can cause microscopic tears, which slow the healing process, especially after laser resurfacing and chemical peels. Many doctors also feel you should give up your topical exfoliants containing AHAs (glycolic or lactic acid) or BHA (salicylic acid). On the other hand, there are physicians who feel as we do: Continuing to use your AHA or BHA exfoliant helps to gently remove the buildup of dead skin cells these procedures cause, and removing the buildup accelerates healing. However, if your physician urges you to skip this step for the time being, follow his or her advice.

There is no question that the best anti-aging routine includes a combination of great skin care, cosmetic corrective procedures, and a healthy lifestyle, a trifecta that can keep you looking beautiful and young for years and years. Cosmetic corrective procedures aren't for everyone, but if you do choose to have something done, what you do to help your skin through the ordeal will make it easier for you to see the results you want faster and more safely.

Note: The information in this article was gleaned from extensive consultations and interviews with cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists, and other medical professionals, as well as our from own experiences with cosmetic corrective procedures. Additional sources include: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, January 2013, pages 167–172; Journal of Dermatologic Surgery, June 2012, pages 176–182; The Surgery-Free Makeover, Irwin, Brandith, MD, DeCapo Lifelong, 2008; and http://www.skintherapyletter.com/2004/9.7/3.html.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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